Oregon's Lighthouses, a Link to the Past
In history, resident light keepers kept vigil on the Oregon coast headlands supporting maritime activity. Most lighthouses were built between 1870 and 1896 with the aid of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The U.S. Coast Guard would become caretakers of the properties and keepers of the lights.
Alas, with the arrival of modern technology, the keepers are no longer needed. But these majestic structures remain. Of the nine Oregon lighthouses, 7 are open to the public and offer tours in the summer months. Historical accounts and visual displays will tell the story of the life of a lighthouse keeper.
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse
Nicknames "Terrible Tilly", the Tillamook Lighthouse stands on it's own island rock about a mile off shore where it is exposed to storm waves. The lighthouse was also a bear to build due to it's location and manning it was just bearable.
It was commissioned in 1881 to help guide ships entering the Columbia River. About 20 miles from the mouth of the river, some 2000 ship wrecks were reported in the past couple of centuries. The lighthouse would take on the responsibility of helping those ships with it's 75,000 candlepower beam which could be seen 22 miles away.
Many stories have been told by the countless keepers. Storms have battered the lighthouse causing much damage. Finally in 1957, a buoy replaced the need for the lighthouse and it was closed. Today, "Eternity By the Sea" columbarium offers mortuary space for those desiring to have their ashes interred on the rock.
For more information on Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, check out a great article from the Lighthouse Friends.
Cape Meares Lighthouse
AT just 38 feet high, Cape Meares is the shortest of Oregon's lighthouses. It was named for Captain John Meares, the first to sail into Tillamook Bay. Commissioned in 1890, it is made of bricks with iron plates.
The lens is the specialty of the lighthouse. Called a Fresnel lens, it is made of 8 sides. 4 are primary lights flashing bright white. The other 4 are bulls eye lenses covered with a red panel. The Fresnel lens made one revolution every 4 minutes. It produced about 30 seconds of fixed white light from the primary lens followed by a red flash of 5 seconds from the bull's-eye lens once every minute.
The lens was replaced in 1910 with an oil vapor light, in 1934 with electricity and finally in 1963 it the lighthouse was decommissioned and replaced by an automated beacon. 57,000 candle power.
The lighthouse keepers had separate quarters where the parking lot now rests. The small building at the base of the lighthouse was once held service materials. It now houses a small interpretive center and gift shop. It is open April - October. To learn more about the lighthouse and the surrounding park, check out the Cape Meares website.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Commissioned in 1873, Yaquina Head Lighthouse is the tallest in Oregon standing at 93 feet tall on a tiny piece of land just north of Newport. For many years, this popular lighthouse was known as Cape Foulweather. It is said that when materials were delivered to build the lighthouse, they were brought to the wrong cape. The engineer didn't want to relocate the materials, so just built the lighthouse where it stands.
The engineer may have built in the wrong place, but he must have known what he was doing. Over the decades, Yaquina Head has been tormented with violent storms, and even struck by lightning. Due to various forms of protection, the lighthouse has experienced relatively little damage. But the weather did take it's toll on the appearance and in 2005, a major renovation took place.
In 1966 the lighthouse was decommissioned when it became fully automated, it's Fresnal lens flashes its unique pattern of 2 seconds on, 2 seconds off, 2 seconds on, 14 seconds off, 24 hours a day.
Yaquina Head is part of the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. There is a $5 fee to enter the part. In 1997, an interpretive center was opened which offers exhibits and programs. Tours of the lighthouse are self-serve during the week and guided on the weekends during the summer. Climb all 114 steps to the top and get your "I survived the blimb" button! The center also has a gift store, proceeds benefiting the Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses.
For more information on Yaquina Head, visit the Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses.
Light up Your Home
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
Built in 1871, the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse served only a short service period. When the Yaquina Head lighthouse was built in 1873, the 2 were so close that it confused boat captains. Since the Bay lighthouse could only be seen 12 miles while the Head lighthouse could be seen for 22 miles, the Bay lighthouse was shut down.
The house stood empty for 14 years before the Coast Guard took over and used it as living quarters and a lookout. In 1931, a new bridge was built Highway 101 and near the lighthouse. Tourists rediscovered the lighthouse and it's grounds and Yaquina State Park was formed. But the house was decaying with age.
Scheduled to be demolished, local volunteers created the Lincoln County Historical Society. It was used a museum until 1974 when it was closed for full restoration.
The Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was the only house with the living quarters in the same building as the light tower. You can tour the house today as the oldest wood structure in the City of Newport. The lighthouse is now listed on the National Historic Register. For more information on the Lighthouse, check it's history.
Heceta Head Lighthouse
The most photographed lighthouse in the United States, Heceta Head is a working lighthouse located between Coos Bay and Newport on the Oregon coast. Mariners traveling up the treacherous coast line asked repeatedly for a lighthouse before finally in 1892 construction began on Heceta Head for two Queen Anne-style Lightkeepers' houses and the actual lighthouse tower. Completed in 1894, the fresnal lens of the lighthouse cast a light 21 miles out.
A small community was built around the lighthouse including gardens, a schoolhouse and a post office. In the 1930's with advent of electricity, the lighthouse keeper was retired and one house was demolished. During the war, the Coast Guard used the grounds, then in 1963, the lighthouse was automated.
From 1970 - 1995, the keepers house was used as a community college satellite. Then in 1995, a new era began for the house. It became a bed and breakfast. Today, you can rent a room at the keepers house, tour the the lighthouse and visit the gift shop. There is no charge, but donations are gladly accepted. For more information, check out the Heceta Head Lighthouse website.
Umpqua River Lighthouse
Originally built in 1957, the Umpqua River Lighthouse fell into the river after a flood took out the foundation. It was re-built in 1894 and remains today surrounded by Coast Guard living quarters. This lighthouse is identical to the Heceta Head lighthouse in structure. The difference being that it is the only current lighthouse on the Oregon coast with a red light.
It's lens is unique in that it was originally turned by a clockwork mechanism much like a grandfather clock, powered by a huge weight which had to be wound up by the lightkeeper every four hours. Today the lens is turned by an electric motor. In 1983, the mechanism broke down and the Coast Guard wanted to replace the lens entirely. Local outrage saved the lens. It remains in tact and operated by the Coast Guard.
The lighthouse is open to the public from May through October. For more information, check out the Umpqua Lighthouse website.
Excellent Guides to Lighthouses and the Oregon Coast
Cape Arago Lighthouse
The second of Oregon's lighthouses that is not open to the public the Cape Arago Lighthouse stands all alone on an island 2.5 miles out to see from Cape Arago. In the mid-1800's, the city of Coos Bay was becoming a busy commercial port. Demands for a lighthouse, but lack of funding resulted in a 25 foot light tower on what is now known as lighthouse island built in 1866. There was a 1300 foot walkway was built as was a keepers quarters. A tram provided supplies from the beach.
But the weather soon took it's toll on the tiny lighthouse. Between 1883 and 1897, many repairs had been done to the lighthouse, the keepers quarters, the tram and the footbridge. Finally in 1909, a 100' lighthouse was built to replace the original. But erosion took it's toll on this lighthouse as well. Finally in 1934 the first lighthouse was removed and a new sturdier lighthouse was built and still stands today.
In 1966, the newest lighthouse was automated and all the buildings were abandoned. The walkway to the island has been fenced off. The fate of this mighty lighthouse is unknown. For more information on the lighthouse, check out Cape Arago Light.
Coquille River Lighthouse
At the mouth of the Coquille River, a lighthouse was approved in 1891 when the town of Bandon began to see an increase in river traffic. Questions of land ownership delayed the completion of the lighthouse until 1896. The Coquille River lighthouse was built on an island with the keepers residence on shore. The two were connected by a wooden walkway. At the turn of the century, a jetty was built to connect the island to the mainland.
In 1936, a forest fire swept through the town of Bandon destroying all but 16 buildings. The town went bankrupt and the lighthouse was replaced by a beacon.
The lighthouse fell into disrepair due to neglect. In the 70's, with the development of Bandon and the creation of Bullard State Park, the lighthouse was renovated. Today the lighthouse is open for tours during the summer months and staffed by volunteers who talk of it's history. For more information, check out Coquille River Lighthouse.
Cape Blanco Lighthouse
Highest on the Oregon Coast at 245 feet is Cape Blanco Lighthouse. Located just north of Port Orford right off Highway 101, the lighthouse is located on the western-most point of Oregon as it juts into the Pacific in a location plagued by heavy winter rains and summer fog.
Access to the lighthouse was difficult at best due to it's location so keepers were hard to come by. There were only 2 keepers, James Langlois and James Hughes. Langlois stayed until he retired in 1918. Hughes arrived in 1888 as assistant to Langlois.
Located in Cape Blanco State Park, you can tour the lighthouse from April through October. Also in the park is the home of James Hughes' parents victorian home. The park offer 8 miles of hiking and 7 miles of horse trails as well as camping, fishing and beach combing.
For more information, check out Cape Blanco State Park and download the brochure.
Not all of these lighthouses videos are based in Oregon, but they give you an idea of what lighthouse keepers had to deal with.